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Separatists have dug in to stop an advance by Ukraine’s military on the city of Donetsk. Nearby, investigators are sifting the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed almost three weeks ago.
Shelling by Ukrainian troops killed six civilians in Donetsk over the weekend, city officials said on Sunday. Buildings were also set ablaze and shelling left shell craters in roads. Ukraine's army has begun trying to tighten the noose around Donetsk, after all but encircling the separatists' other main base of Luhansk.
In Luhansk, the mayor has warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe," with electricity and water failing.
Authorities in Luhansk reported three civilians killed and eight wounded over the past 24 hours. With six civilians killed in Donetsk and another in a nearby town, the noncombatant death toll stands at 10 over the weekend so far. Ukraine's military has reported no losses in the same period.
The United Nations puts the death toll in Ukraine's conflict at more than 1,100 since April. The UN also estimates that 230,000 people have fled fighting.
'Destabilizing and interfering'
On Sunday, a team from the Netherlands and Australia, two countries that suffered some of the most substantial losses in the July 17 downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight, continued efforts to find the remains of passengers.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to persuade the rebels to end the conflict and to ensure they do not hinder the international efforts to recover the human remains from the plane's wreckage.
"It is an unspeakable abomination that two weeks after this crash there are still bodies on the crash site unrecovered and the Russians have not used their influence with the separatists," Hammond told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper. "I said last week that there is one man who can snap his fingers and make this happen and he hasn't done so," Hammond added, urging Putin to cut off arms to the rebels and "stop destabilizing and interfering" in Ukraine. "He must now do so."
Until Friday, heavy fighting had prevented investigators from reaching the site, where remains are scattered across approximately 20 square kilometers (8 square miles). On Saturday, shelling nearby forced investigators to stop their search in one area, but work at the main site continued unhindered.
The United States has accused the separatists of shooting down the Boeing 777 by mistake using a missile and launcher supplied by Russia, but authorities in Moscow have blamed Ukraine's military for the disaster. The United States has also accused Russia of continuing to arm the separatists.
Those leading the probe say the search could last three more weeks.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, AP)